Wal-Mart: The Great Satan Turns…Philanthropist?

Alright. It’s early in the morning and I’m awake after only three hours sleep and I can barely get my eyes open and I see…this.

Wal-Mart looks to aid ailing areas
9 new stores planned to boost neighborhoods

Naturally, I think I’m dreaming. Naturally, I think I must have read it wrong. I look at it again. No, it still says the same thing. I rub my eyes. Blink. Get up and make coffee. Drink some. Shake myself a little more awake. Come back.

No. I didn’t imagine it. It hasn’t changed.

Wal-Mart Stores announced Monday its plans for nine stores in areas in need of economic revitalization, including a previously announced store in DeKalb County, and said it will use them to help other businesses in the area develop.

Wal-Mart Vice Chairman John Menzer, who heads the company’s U.S. operation, was traveling to Indianapolis and Pittsburgh to announce that the company is moving into neighborhoods in each of those cities where commerce has faltered.

Menzer said Wal-Mart is working with local chambers of commerce, business groups and minority-owned businesses with the goal of guiding new suppliers and helping new or existing shops thrive.

“We’re looking at working families that need us the most,” Menzer said. “That’s where we want to go.”

Huh? This does not compute. The corporation that used to pride itself on how fast it could run competitors out of business all of a sudden wants to help those same businesses survive? Whassup?

In April, Wal-Mart Chief Executive Lee Scott said the company planned to build 50 stores in areas with high crime or high unemployment.

Well, yes, he said that, I vaguely remember, but I figured it was another publicity stunt.

Wal-Mart’s usual MO has been to move into an area, undercut every other business in that area with loss-leader pricing, and then, when they’ve all surrendered and closed up shop – neighborhood drug stores, clothing stores, furniture stores, and, of course, any other department store(s) – and the downtown is devastated, raise its prices back up to where they will remain. This is the direct reverse of that, moving into an underserved area and then boosting other struggling businesses – how? How far are they willing to go?

At the store on Chicago’s West Side and at the nine identified Monday, Wal-Mart will offer advertising to the other businesses in local newspapers and through the audio feed in Wal-Mart stores.

They’re going to do what? Advertise their competition over the loudspeakers in their store? It’s as if you told me that Dick Cheney had announced he was against the surge and was going to resign in principled protest and march in the streets next to Cindy Sheehan if Bush didn’t agree to call it off.

I’d like to be happy about this. I’d like to applaud their sense of civic responsibility. Really. I would.

But this is Wal-Mart we’re talking about. The company that made its employees drag it through the courts to get overtime pay. The company that discriminated against women and then, after being told by a court to stop, went right on doing it for another three years. The company that claimed it didn’t know its contractors were locking janitors in at night, promised to stop the pracie, and then did nothing. The company that just last week, after months of negotiation, stood on a stage with union reps, including Andy Stern, and announced that it was supporting universal health care and then, 10 bare minutes later, said it had no plans to stop supporting candidates who were against universal health care.

In short, this is Wal-Mart we’re talking about. The company that lies reflexively, that says one thing in public and does another in private, that belittles, endangers, and steals from its own employees.

So instead of cheering, cynic that I am I’m sitting here asking myself:

“What the hell are they up to now?”


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